Musical Performance: George Ziadeh & String Quartet Perform Arab-Islamic Poetry

Sat, January 24, 2015 8:00 pm at Alwan for the Arts

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George Ziadeh & String Quartet Perform Arab-Islamic Poetry:
Rubaiyat al Khayyam and Tarjuman al Ashwaq by Ibn Al Arabi

Music by Riad Al-Sunbati and Amir ElSaffar

George Ziadeh, Vocals, 'Oud
Layth Al-Rubaye, Violin
Navid Kandalousi, Violin
Eylem Basaldi
, Viola
Naseem Alatrash, Cello
Zafer Tawil, Qanun


Rubaiyat al Khayyam
Poetry by Omar Al Khayyam (trans. Ahmed Rami)
Music by Riad Al-Sunbati

Tarjuman al Ashwaq (Interpreter of Desires)

For strings and voice (US Premiere)
Poetry by Ibn Al Arabi
Music by Amir ElSaffar

George Ziadeh leads a string quartet in performing two great works of Arab-Islamic poetry: Rubaiyat al Khayyam and Tarjuman Al Ashwaq (Interpreter of Desires) by Ibn Al Arabi with music by Riad Al-Sunbati and Amir ElSaffar, respectively.

$20 General | $15 for Students & Seniors (Buy Now*)
(*A small online fee is applied)

Doors open at 7:30 pm

(18 May 1048 – 4 December 1131)

Omar Khayyam’s poetry, most notably the Rubaiyat is one of the markers of literary aesthetics. Al Khayyam who was a philosopher, mathematician and astronomer left a library of works that re-imagined life in a spiritual transcendent realm, and negotiated with nature in an unparalleled rhetoric. In particular the Rubaiyat that contains nearly a thousand quatrains, with each being a poem in two-line stanzas with two segments, portrays elegantly his views on religion, spirituality and nature.

Khayyam’s poetry in its English rendition by Edward Fitzgerald set a standard for how a literary and aesthetic work could be so intrinsically captured as to withstands difference and ushers what we now so commonly accept as world literature. No less brilliant is Ahmad Rami’s translation from Persian into Arabic, which was put to music by Riad Al-Sunbati and sung by Oum Kalthoum. In this event selections from Rami’s version will be sung by George Ziadeh whose voice has depth and timber that harmoniously blends poetic classicism and the improvisational and meditative musical expression of Maqam-a tribute and an illumination of the deeper meaning and reflection of Omar al Khayyam’s vision.


Ibn Al Arabi is among the most revered Sufi philosophers, whose work is an embodiment of the ideals of love and transcendence. Tarjuman al Ashwaq (Interpreter of Desires), a collection of 61 poems cast in the person of Nizam, is an exploration of the divine and ecstatic nature of unity in the variety of the manifest world.

Selections from Ibn Al Arabi’s work are set for voice and string quartet, using the sonority of the combination of instruments to interpret and reflect upon the inner meanings of Ibn Al Arabi’s text within the resonance of the maqam (musical mode). Inspired by tarab, or ecstasy, the timbres evoke the overtones of the Arab takht (chamber ensemble) and rhythmic pulsations that conjure folk instruments and dance, combining with string techniques and affectations of contemporary music.

The string ensemble, a creation of the European enlightenment, occupies a central role in the western classical canon. More intimate than symphonic works, and with an interaction not found in solo repertoire, the quartet is a place of philosophical enquiry, where ideas and arguments are worked out in a dialectical framework with harmonic progression, counterpoint, and form as the aesthetic currency.

Reading the text, Ashwaq's harmonies emanate from the sustained microtonal resonance inherent to the maqam. Exploring heterophony - simultaneous renderings of a single melodic phrase with variation - as an alternative to counterpoint, string and vocal melodies are woven around one another in expressions of unity in multiple forms. Reflections are made on maqam's overtones and the concept of maqam, referring to stations on the path of transcendence.

Part of Alwan's Expressions of Tarab Series, an ongoing project at Alwan to produce multidisciplinary works of art inspired by themes in essential texts of Islamic culture, including The One Thousand and One Nights, Rubaiyat al Khayyam, the Seven Golden Odes, and Interpreter of Desires by Ibn Al Arabi.


Alwan's music program is made possible, in part, with public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in Partnership with the City Council.

Last updated: 2015-01-24 13:40:19

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